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International Law

Human Rights in the Context of the Changing Global Order

Ankit Shubham

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Thomas Hobbes argued that nature of conflict is embedded in the natural condition of mankind. On account of constant fear procured from this nature for the weaker sections of society, philosophers argued for creation of moral and legal obligations for protecting the interests of human beings. This followed the formulation of human rights in its modern sense. Though human rights are synonymous with every human civilization throughout the history, the nature of these rights were mostly in pursuance of the natural condition of conflict where it was directed in favour of one group over another. The current form of liberal world order based human rights regime was formed after the World War II and is the most influencing regime ever formed in the human history. There have been no other human rights system as widely accepted as the one we are living in. It is based on the principles of mutual respect, human dignity, equality and democratic values. In the bipolar world of the cold war era, human rights became part of an ideological struggle. The codification and monitoring of these rights benefitted from the power struggle between Soviet Union and the United States of America [US]. The human rights regime was at its peak after the fall of Berlin Wall. In the following unipolar era dominated by the US hegemony, the regime at times did suffer from backlashes but nothing was that serious to threaten the base of this regime at all. Now when the current world order itself is in retreat, the future of this human rights regime is under skepticism.

American hegemony is on a decline, particularly due to their own policies aided with the rise of regional players. The American-dominant world order is set to be replaced by a multi polar order, where numerous emerging states will have a share in the global power. These emerging states are mostly authoritarian or illiberal democracies having a poor record on human rights subject. The changing course of global power would adversely impact the current human rights regime. The change is inevitable but the degree of such change could be controlled since the international order is very deeply rooted in the current world order. It is where the role of emerging democracies and traditionalist powers become important to control the course of such change.

The changing global order

Stagnancy coupled with global order is a false concept often intermixed in the international relations. The end of every global order is inevitable and they expire in a prolonged deterioration rather than taking a sudden collapse. Ever since liberalism became the centre of the global order in the 1940s, it has been under constant threat from the actions of dominating state as well as non-state actors. This liberal order that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War produced immense benefits for the people across the planet. The years following this period brought unprecedented growths like prosperity and raise in standards of human rights. In particular, the human rights regime received a boost with the different newly formed human rights order centered on upholding the values of humanism. This order was centered on the principle of mutual respect of sovereignty and it survived the cold war and American hegemony and the challenges thereafter.

But the liberal world order is now deteriorating and the US is fast losing its superpower status that it gained post Soviet collapse. Experts argue that this breakdown of US power started with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the present administration policies which seem disinterested in leading the global order is the end point of US hegemony.[1] With this end, there are multiple aspects of world order that is possible and foreseeable. Some argue that the world order will remain unipolar with the classical power swift happening from one great power to another, others argue that the world order will return to pre-1992 bipolar phase while the most convincing argument being the multi polar world order where the global power could be concentrated in small pockets of numerous countries. With the rising economy and military powers, the regional powers will have a share in the concentrated global power in the upcoming order.

With the shift in the world order, the international institutions supporting the order will find it difficult to adapt to the new conditions. The older order was primarily supported by liberal democracies, now there is a constant shift of powers from these democracies to authoritarian and illiberal democratic countries. The liberal world order saw the rise of free countries by at least 36 percent which is now at a constant rate of decline.[2] The new world order is thus set to be dominated by countries with poor human rights record. With these set of countries dominating the world order in the coming times, the liberal order based human rights regime will suffer severe repercussions.

The human rights order of the current era

Global human rights came into play only after a long period of power shifts and brutal wars rather than peaceful international relations. Post World War II, the liberal order gave prominence to the United Nations which was seen as a standing global forum which would set uniform guidelines for attaining mutual trust and orchestrate domestic as well as external policies of a state. In the third General Assembly of the United Nations held in 1948, the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights [UDHR] was adopted which could be attributed as the principle document of the current human rights regime.[3] Article 28 of the UDHR emphasises on entitlement to a social and international order which upholds human dignity and liberty.[4] In the following years, numerous national and international human rights organisations were set up which ultimately established an international order based on the principles of Article 28.

The human rights order has been shaped by the actions of state as well as non-state actors. Under the state actors include the nature of states, the domestic laws and the geopolitical interests the state serve to the particular cause. For the non-state actors, there are two broad heads of human rights organisations, the intergovernmental organisations [IGOs] or the international non-governmental organisations [INGOs]. The IGOs are formed by treaties amongst several states. Upon ratification of the same, the states become legally bound by the objectives set out in the treaty. The INGOs on the other hand carry out support services along with pressurizing the states for attaining rights. In the past, INGOs like Amnesty International or Red Cross have been successful in influencing political processes including areas of high politics affecting national sovereignty and the actions of other key players. The human rights order thus created has established deep roots in the current world order.    

Challenges to human rights order in the multi polar world

Western countries played an extraordinarily large role as funders and conveners of human rights organisations, directly or indirectly shaping the mode of working of these organisations.[5] Several states have argued that the organisations have been shaped in such a way to best suit the dominance of the western countries. For instance, there have been criticisms of Responsibility to Protect doctrine which have been time and again usurped by the West to wage wars in other countries. The double standard invasions to bring peace to a region have not gone well with the advocates of human rights. Countries are losing confidence in the established institutions like never before. Many countries have either left or have showed their intentions to leave the International Criminal Court over alleged political bias. Other human rights institutions are also not free from these threats. The principles of democracy as enshrined under UDHR are not feasible in a world ruled by far right or authoritarian states. If the world powers are shifted from the west to the regional players then it is certain that these organisations in their current form would suffer a backlash. While traditional powers are unwilling to reform the institutions, the emerging states are becoming more assertive in the global politics in the same place. The formation of New Development Bank by BRICS countries show that if the emerging states are not better accommodated in the existing institutions, such as World Bank or UNSC, they will undermine those institutions by creating alternative ones.

The rise of populism

The issue of human rights disorder cannot be limited to non-western countries. In recent years, the rise of populism has resulted in deteriorating human rights accord in the western countries as well. Populism is a growing ideology and an anti-establishment movement which share suspicion and hostility towards the established institutions. Studies have indicated that populist governments have eroded individual rights and inflicted serious damage on democratic institutions.[6] In Europe for example, the increasing immigration from the Middle East and the need for preservation of cultural identity per se started the populist tide and now, the far right groups emerging from populism are expressing discontent with the established human rights laws. Several states are even passing protectionist laws aimed at curbing basic rights of refugees as enshrined in the Refugee Convention or the UDHR principles. The rise of populism has not only affected Europe but it has gone past the Atlantic to the US. The protectionist policies coupled with growing human rights abuse of the migrants shows the changing nature of administration to deal with human rights issues.[7] Though the abuse on several counts like Guatanamo Bay have been there in the US but the current administration is very vocal in carrying out these abuses and making it sound like a norm. The multi polar world order will continue to have considerable say of these western countries and they are ought to act as saviours of the established institutions but with the rise of far right groups here they are most likely pursue the protectionist policies and evade their responsibilities to act.

Populism have gone past all possible barriers to distant countries like Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil and other emerging powers. This is leading to swift transfer of liberal democracy to illiberal ones. For instance the Philippine government has initiated its war on drugs policy where thousands of extra judicial killings have taken place.[8] Brazil has also shown increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings.[9] Indonesia is also witnessing the rising tides of populism where the far right opposition is witnessing strongholds in different pockets of the country.[10] Unlike the west where populism is constrained by strongly established democratic institutions, in Asian countries these institutions are generally weak and populism could prove more dangerous to democracy. These countries are the important regional players who will have significant say in the new world order, the rising populist tide in these countries is thus worrisome for the established human rights order.

The rise of authoritarian states in the world order

The authoritarian states will have a dominant share in the rising multi polar world order. Countries like Turkey, China, North Korea, Russia etc and regional groups like African Union, Arab League and the like will have a considerable say in the world order. The human rights record of these countries range from poor to very poor. Of these countries, China is likely to have the most important share of the global power but its autocratic government sees human rights as existential threat to the state. The Chinese government has long pushed the current human rights order as an infringement of its sovereignty. Its recent episode with detaining of thousands of Muslims from Xinjiang region clearly shows the poor human rights accord it would provide for in its capacity.[11] The current human rights order will always have some kind of infringement on the national sovereignty thus one should not expect support of the authoritarian states in this regard. Further, there are certain provisions in the UDHR which are clearly in contraventions with the foundations of these states. For instance, Article 29 calls out for establishment of democratic societies which is not a feasible alternative under an authoritarian rule.[12]

The rise of these authoritarian states challenges the liberal order built around human rights, democracy and international justice. These states were always skeptical of human rights organisations and will abstain from progressive interpretations of human rights obligations.[13] The attitude of these states is going to make the current human rights regime ineffective per se given the dominance of these states in the current world order. Though one could argue that the current international order has very deep roots in the society and is not easily threatened by these changes, these authoritarian states even during the current regime have successfully crumbled upon the human rights in their own domestic spaces. With the shift in world order in their favour, they could extend their domestic policies to the international sphere and change the course of human rights in the world.

The decline of human rights order

Political scientist Samuel Huntington cited democracy and the subsequent human rights from it as the inevitable consequence of the assertion of US dominance. He said

Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; non-proliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of democracy.”[14]

Though human rights have provided immense benefits for people across the globe, the proponents of these rights have used these for ulterior motives. The controller of the world order will always look for creation of institutions in the way that best suits their goals of dominance. The authoritarian dominated order would curb the liberties by counting the shortcomings of democracy. Statements like the following by the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad could be used for supporting the restrictions on human rights

 “Authoritarian stability has enabled prosperity whereas democracy has brought chaos and increased misery. Should we enforce democracy on people who may not be able to handle it and destroy themselves?”[15]

The advocates for autocracy will undermine the human rights system for shaping up their rule and establishing long term powers in the process. The emerging authoritarian states have from time and again created deadlocks in the existing human rights system for resolving humanitarian conflicts. The deadlock created in the UNSC over Syrian Civil War by Russia and China is the most recent one. Estimated suggest that over half a million people died in this conflict but still a no-vote was given for intervention in Syria.[16] This was partly due to the misuse of humanitarian intervention in Libya by NATO troops earlier where the said intervention failed miserably. The reasons also ranged to Russian alliance to Syrian government which it sought to protect while the western countries launched an offensive against the government at the same time. This is a perfect example of inefficiency the human right order could turn into.   

The current international order has survived decades of violent wars and instability. But the stability was partly due to the fact that the US and its allies were able to maintain their hegemony. With this hegemony set to be broken, an unstable human rights order is just a matter of time. Owing to the protectionist policies, the upcoming major world powers would denounce these set of rights and will look forward to replace these with a new set of rules. The nature of these rules is easily foreseeable from the domestic policies that these countries have been serving in the past. It makes the next generation of human rights regime look bleak and cites our future to be on the verge of being in dystopia.

Conclusion

George Orwell in his famous novel 1984 quoted that “power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shape of your own choosing.” This quote is very relevant to the current scenario of the changing world order where the emerging powers will restrict the shape of human rights regime suitable for their own purposes. The new Orwellian world therefore would push us back decades and nullify the attempts that were done for creating this most effective human rights regime in the course of history. The human rights regime is under threat, particularly due to the actions of the parent countries of the regime and also due to the rise of emerging countries elsewhere. The traditionalist countries are showing little to no interest in upholding the values they created for protection of human rights. It is where the role of emerging states becomes crucial. The current human rights regime need to gain the active support of at least some of the emerging states, if they are to maintain significance in the coming decades of this century. Emerging democratic states like India and others could prove to be crucial in mediating between the diverging interests of the traditional powers and illiberal emerging states elsewhere. If the human rights order is to somehow survive in the changing world order, it would depend on how these emerging states are able to bridge the gaps that exist between traditionalist and conservative powers.


[1] Fareed Zakaria, The Self-Destruction of America Power, Foreign Affairs, Volume 98 Number 4, July/August 2019 at p 10

[2] Democracy in Retreat, Freedom in the World 2019, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat

[3] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, History of the Document, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/sections/universal-declaration/history-document/index.html

[4] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 28

[5] Seth D. Kaplan, Human Rights in Thick and Thin Societies: Universality without Uniformity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018)

[6] Yascha Mounk & Jordan Kyle, What Populists do to Democracies, The Atlantic, (Dec 26, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/hard-data-populism-bolsonaro-trump/578878/

[7] Lauren Sukin, The United States treats migrants worse than Prisoner of Wars, Foreign Policy, (July 26, 2019), 10:45 AM), https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/26/the-united-states-treats-migrants-worse-than-prisoners-of-war/

[8] Philippines ‘War on Drugs’, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/tag/philippines-war-drugs

[9] Brazil: Events of 2018, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/brazil

[10] Umar Juoro, The Rise of Populist Islam in Indonesia, Turkish Policy Quarterly, (Nov. 29, 2019), http://turkishpolicy.com/article/987/the-rise-of-populist-islam-in-indonesia

[11] Roland Hughes, China Uighurs: All you need to know on Muslim ‘crackdown’, BBC, (Nov 8, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-45474279

[12] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art 29.

[13] Thijs van Lindert, The International Human Rights Regime in a Multi Polar World, Humanity in Action Nederland, (Oct. 2016), https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledge_detail/the-international-human-rights-regime-in-a-multipolar-world/

[14] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 184 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

[15] Speech to the Europe-East Asia Economic Forum, Hong Kong, 14 Oct. 1992. 

[16] 560,000 Killed in Syria’s War according to Updated Death Toll, Haaretz, (Dec. 10, 2018, 4:26 PM), https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/560-000-killed-in-syria-s-war-according-to-updated-death-toll-1.6700244

I am a student at National Law University, Jodhpur (India) pursuing specialization in International Trade Law and I have a keen interest in International Relations and Politics.

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International Law

COVID-19: UN Security Council should urgently take a Lead

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Authors: Tan Sri Hasmy Agam and Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic

The COVID-19 situation is very worrying, indeed, alarming matter, not just as a global health and biosafety issue, but potentially as a global security challenge, too.

While the pandemic is being dealt with by the World Health Organisation (WHO), along with other relevant United Nation Specialised Agencies (UN SA), the situation is deteriorating rapidly and could easily get out of control. This of course, if it is not effectively contained. In such a (more and more likely) scenario, it would be engulfing the entire world, virtually akin to as the Third world war, though initially of a different kind.

We are amazed as to why the Security Council has not stepped in. It should have done so as to address the Covid-19 and surrounding scenery in the way it clearly deserves to be dealt with, given its devastating impact on the entire international community on almost every dimension, including international peace and security, which indisputably falls under its mandate under the UN Charter.

As the Council has often dealt with issues which are sometimes not ostensibly related to international or regional security, we are puzzled, indeed alarmed, as to why it has chosen not to come to grips with the pandemic as a matter of the utmost urgency.

If the members of the Council, for their own internal reasons, have not felt compelled to do so, shouldn’t the other members of the world body, individually or collectively as international or regional groupings, such as the European Union (EU), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – G-77,African Union (AU), or ASEAN, take the much-desired initiative to call on the Security Council to imperatively address this global pandemic, even as the WHO and other concerned UN agencies, much to their credit, are dealing with the issue from their own (narrow) perspectives – and yet rather limited mandate and resources.

In this regard, especially the EU, would be well-positioned to exert the much-need pressure on the UNSC, given the devastation that the Virus has wreaked on a number of its members, notably Italy and Spain, among others.

Such an urgent Meeting of the UN Security Council at this point in time would be greatly applauded by the entire international community as it would accord the world body the leadership role that its members expect it to play.

Gens una sumus. Concordia patria firmat

In this dire situation, the big powers should put aside their ideological and policy differences, or power play, and focus instead on galvanizing concerted international actions of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the entire human race.

By decisively and urgently acting, the UN Secretary-General and the UN SC would be sending a bold and clear yet tranquilising signal to the entire humanity. More importantly, such a unison voice would be also welcomed and well understood as a referential (not to say a norm setting) note by other crucial agencies, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), World Tourism Organisation (WTO), as well as by the Red Cross (IFRC), Bretton Woods institutions, Organisation of  Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Federation of Trade Unions, including other specialised or non-UN FORAs, most notably developmental entities such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), Asia Development Bank (ADB), Africa Development Bank (AfDB), etc.

In the following period – while witnessing indeed a true historical conjuncture, we need a global observance and protection of human rights, of jobs, for the benefit of economy and overall security. Recovery – which from now on require a formidable biosafety, too – will be impossible without social consensus. Clearly, it will be unsustainable if on expenses of labour or done through erosion of basic human rights – embedded in the UN Charter and accepted as essential to the very success of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

Indeed, countries are not just economies, but most of all societies.

(The truth is plain to see: Planet has stopped, although the Capital remains intact. We came to a global halt because the Labour has been sent home. Hence, the recovery comes with labour. Historically, labour has never betrayed, while capital has failed us many times. By the same token, human rights never betrayed the state and its social cohesion, but the states – and much glorified markets – far too many times in history have failed humans. Therefore, there is no true exit from the crisis without strengthening the labour and human rights.)

For a grave planetary problem, our rapidly articulated global accord is badly needed. Therefore, multilateralism – as the most effective planetary tool at our disposal – is not our policy choice. It is the only way for human race to (socio-economically and politically) survive.

Covid-19 is a challenge that comes from the world of biology. Yet, biology and international relations share one basic rule: Comply or die. To remind us; it is not the big that eat the small, rather it is a fast which eats the slow.

It is night time to switch off the autopilot. Leadership and vision now!!

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World Governments Need Cooperation of Every Section of Society to Defeat COVID-19

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COVID-19 has wrapped the whole world in its trap because of multiple reasons in which irresponsible behaviour at the hands of states remains at the top. There were some nations such as Italy and America which were not taking the threat of coronavirus serious resultantly both the countries are now the most affected nations of the world. Even at the extent that the president of America Donald Trump was showing passive behaviour concerning the outbreak of devastating virus resultantly the US has surpassed China and reached the top by highest patients in the world which have crossed two lacs including almost five thousand deaths. In this regard, President Trump has signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus relief bill. Besides, other nations such as Italy, Spain, China, Germany, France, and Iran come respectively after the US about the patients of COVID-19. As for as Pakistan is concerned, Prime Minister Imran Khan also urged for the international as well as national cooperation to control and eliminate the threat of COVID-19. While people in Pakistan are not still taking it seriously or fully cooperating with government via looking over their immature and unserious behaviour concerning the restrictions imposed by the government through violating them. In this regard, the government has sealed various shops and other public places that were open even after lockdown. Therefore the government has taken serious steps through lodging FIR against them. Besides, various madrassas/masjids were also offering Friday congregation prayers via side-lining the guidelines given by the government therefore many people were arrested and put behind the bars by security forces of the country. While looking over the staggering and worsening condition of Pakistan which shows a fast increase in the patients of coronavirus government requires the seriousness and cooperation of people to control over fatal disease otherwise it will wipe out most of the population of the country.

Consequently, it is not only the responsibility of people within states to cooperate with the government to defeat first this global pandemic disease but it is also high time for states to cooperate even having multiple differences over numerous issues. In this regard, for defeating Coronavirus states require global cooperation via setting their enmities and differences aside for the common good. Besides, China continues international cooperation to beat COVID-19. Beijing is determined to cooperate and help other nations, therefore, it has sent aid towards 18 countries over the past month in which it has sent its team as well as tons of medical supply to various countries such as Italy, Cambodia, Pakistan, and United Kingdom. Along with this Chinese government said that those countries which are not provided aid by it were helping them through an online website. Via looking over the commitment and relentless struggle of the Chinese government as well as people particularly medical staff, they have become successful in controlling the spread of COVID-19. In the same manner, China also emphasized the global stakeholders that global cooperation is the only way to beat the coronavirus. The governments need acts with speed, scale and clear-minded determination to conquer the fast-spreading virus. Because “viruses do not respect border: neither do they distinguish between races or nations, therefore, responsible governments worldwide should stand firmly against hatred and racism and join hands to promote disease prevention and clinical treatment as well as vaccine development”.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief in his recent media briefing said that “This is not just a threat for individual people or individual countries. We are all in this together, and we can only save lives together”. Though preventive measures suggested by the countries which have minimized and controlled the fast spread of COVID-19 such as China, South Korea, and Sudan are social distancing, contact tracing, widespread testing, and early preparation. In the DW documentary, Dr. Alexander Edward, an Immunologist, emphasized on the usage of face masks, he also entertained that the world is running out of face mask because of its massive usage. Besides, Nature is a weekly international journal that published an article on March 9 in which emphasized over three things to eliminate coronavirus namely follow WHO advice, end secrecy in decision-making and cooperate globally which is the only way to defeat one of the worst infectious-diseases spread throughout the world. COVID-19 has left severe effects on the social, political, economic, and financial structures of the world. So, it is very difficult only for the governments of states to control and defeat this pandemic virus. In this regard, governments need the seriousness of behaviour as well as the cooperation of each section of society may it be doctor, social workers, government and private employs, common people, armed forces, businessmen, farmers along with each person who can contribute in any way to help the government to defeat the Coronavirus. This is the easiest and fast way to fight against coronavirus otherwise whole nations including governments are going to bear the brunt of this one of the most dangerous viruses of the 21st Century.

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Satya N. Nandan: End of an era for Law of the Sea

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The passing away of Amb. Satya N. Nandan of Fijion February 25, 2020 comes as a decisive loss to law of the sea as both a field of academic inquiry and a branch of applied public international law. As a crusader for a global rules based order for the world’s oceans, there are few who have contributed to the practical development and evolution of this field as the iconic Fijian lawyer-diplomat who would hold top positions in the United Nations and man the International Seabed Authority for the better part of its existence. His seminal contribution to Law of the Sea marks him out as a world-renowned practioner in a field that was marked by Westphalian struggles to establish control over the world oceans and the vast resources that lie beneath in the years leading to the adoption of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (UNCLOS). His death marks the end of an era for the discipline that continues to evolve based on the provisions of UNCLOS and the untiring efforts of States to strive for a world order based on equity and justice.

Born in 1936 in what was then known as the British Crown Colony of Fiji as the youngest of ten children to Shiu Nandan and Raj Kaur, Satya Nandan after completing his early education in his home country moved to New Zealand to complete his high school education. Pursuant to a law degree from the University of London in 1965, Nandan became a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn before returning to Fiji to start private practice. The newly independent nation would seek his assistance in establishing the country’s mission to the United Nations in 1970 eventually leading to his absorption as a career diplomat in Fiji. From here on Satya Nandan would be the moral and intellectual voice of the Pacific Island States seeking to assert their legitimate claims on ocean resources and championing the codification of what was then regarded as one of the last unregulated frontiers of the global commons. This association with law of the sea and ocean affairs would become a lifetime preoccupation for the rising young lawyer-diplomat.

Amb. Nandan’s most remarkable contribution to law of the sea would be his work as the Rapporteur of the Second Committee of the Conference that dealt with the major issues of law of the sea. The inability of the First and Second Geneva Conventions to iron out contentious issues failed to result in a global ocean convention acceptable to all States. The mistakes where sought to be corrected by the time the Third Conference on the Law of the Sea convened in New York in 1973. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 was the result of this Conference and has been the major treaty body regulating the use of oceans for the international community since its coming into force on November 16, 1994. Amb. Satya Nandan is widely recognized as the principal architect of this exercise who ironed out differences existing between various countries on diverse contentious issues. In the process, the Pacific States and Asian-African States were able to secure maritime jurisdictional claims of 200 NM from their baselines through the creation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), a unique output of the Convention first articulated in the Colombo Session of the Asian African Legal Consultative Organization (AALCO) in 1971 by Kenya. In addition, Amb. Nandan negotiated the rights for archipelagic States and the passage through straits for international navigation. In all cases, his determination to safeguard the interest of Pacific States and by doing so the interests of the broader community of Asian-African States stood out with conviction that continues to find resonance in global treaty negotiations till this date.

The provisions pertaining to deep-sea bed mining continued to remain contentious even after the adoption of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. This lead to the delay in the coming into force of the Convention. Urged by the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cueller, Amb. Nandan joined the Organization as the Under Secretary- General for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Law of the Sea. Most of the concerns pertaining to the issue were resolved through the intervention of Amb. Nandan as Chairman of the ‘Boat Paper Group’ resulting in the 1994 Implementing Agreement on Part XI, which created the International Seabed Authority to regulate the conservation and use of non-living resources on the deep-sea bed in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Elected as the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority in 1996, Amb. Nandan in his three-term tenure that lasted till December 2008 was instrumental in moulding the ISA from its inception as an international organization with a specific mandate including establishing its main organs- the Assembly, Council, Legal and Technical Commission and the Finance Committee. It was during his tenure that the Regulations on Prospecting and Exploration of Polymetallic Nodules in the Area also known as the ‘Nodules Regulations’ were promulgated that would regulate the actual conduct of deep-sea mining in the ‘Area’ .  The establishment of an Endowment Fund in 2006 by the Authority for the advancement for marine scientific research (MSR) activities was also a significant feature of the work of the Authority and was widely welcomed as advancing the mandate of UNCLOS, 1982. Incorporating the ‘Precautionary Approach’ to the work of the Authority was a legacy of Amb. Nandan, which was validated by the Seabed Disputes Chamber in February 2011 in an advisory opinion that mandated the application of this principle as originally laid down in the 1992 Rio Declaration.

Amb. Nandan’s role in creating a global legal framework for fishery conservation was yet another shining aspect of his legacy. As Chairman of the Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, the global community would witness theadoption of the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement under his leadership and the subsequent setting up of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. His lifelong commitment to sustainable use of marine living resources continues to inspire sustainability debates in the sector and remains highly valuable in the context of ‘blue economy’ debates.

The Virginia Commentary, which remains the most significant and reliable elucidation on the law of the seawas spearheaded by Amb. Nandan. It gives a masterly account of the treaty negotiation process leading to the adoption of the convention and forms a crucial corpus of the Law of the Sea. While it involved the effort of numerous individuals, Nandan is credited with providing intellectual leadership of the project as the series general editor of the work along with Shabtai Rosenne. The seven-volume book, which took 26 years to prepare, remains an indispensable account for any serious scholar or practioner of the subject.

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